According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in construction incurred the most fatalities of any industry in the private sector in 2008, despite the fact that the number of construction fatalities that year declined 20 percent.

Who is responsible for safety on the jobsite -- the individual, the government, the safety director, the worker or all of the above?

Everyone on the jobsite is responsible for safety. This simple, but often incorrectly answered, question is from a mini-quiz as part of biweekly “Safety Stuffers,” small fliers dispersed with weekly paychecks, created by the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago to remind members of their United Association work force of top safety concerns.

According to Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of the MCA of Chicago, that particular safety message is especially important.

 “Effective workplace safety can only be achieved when everyone involved takes responsibility,” he said. “Once they do, it is easier for everyone to work together as a team and watch out for each other. That is why the association, our member contractors, and our union work force, UA local union 597, stand together in our dedication to workplace safety training.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says workers in construction incurred the most fatalities of any industry in the private sector in 2008, despite the fact that the number of construction fatalities that year declined 20 percent from the previous year -  from 1,204 cases in 2007 to 969 cases. Fatality figures for 2009 have not yet been released.

  “Safety must be a top priority on every jobsite,” said Dan Bulley, senior vice president of MCA of Chicago and head of the safety committee. “We don’t take chances with our workforce. Union safety training, in combination with the educational programs offered by our association, provides our contractors and workers with the knowledge needed to work in optimal safety conditions.”

MCA of Chicago offers safety training to member contractors through its Certified Safety Bureau, which offers both classroom training and online courses.

The workers at also receive a cutting-edge education. Their training center in Mokena, Ill., is the largest pipe fitters’ learning facility in America and is equipped with state-of-the-art training technology, including equipment for virtual welding. Apprentices can practice welding with a heatless rod and watch a visual simulation while wearing a specially equipped welding helmet.

“Students often use the system at lunchtime to work with it more,” said John Leen, Local 597 training director. “Apprentices who practice with virtual welding learn more quickly than those who only do hands-on welding.”

These educational initiatives instill MCA of Chicago member contractors and their union workforce with a high degree of safety awareness. This is important to the bottom line of industry, since accidents cost American companies billions of dollars each year. According to the 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2007 amounted to more than $52 billion dollars in workers compensation costs.

  One such “aware” company is Scheck Industries of Countryside, Ill. Countryside has been recognized for their excellent ongoing safety record. In both 2008 and 2009, Scheck Industries was recognized by the Mechanical Contractors Association of America for their excellent safety record: 1 million-plus work hours each year with no lost work time.

“Those million-plus hours include projects with 400 to 500 workers,” said Joe Lasky, safety director at Scheck. “It takes a lot of training and cooperation to keep that many workers safe on the jobsite.”

Safety is so important to Scheck, they have developed a workplace program called “JAWS: Job Aids for Working Safely,” which includes daily talks and other components to help keep workers aware of safety concerns. MCA of Chicago has recognized Scheck with the Most Innovative Safety Program Award for the program.

  Lasky said their company’s employee incentive program gives safety points to workers for every hour worked safely.

“We have a website where they can cash in their safety points and receive polo shirts, jackets, hunting jackets and other items,” he said. “It’s our way of providing reinforcement for workers who are accident-free.”

  “Teamwork is an essential part of workplace safety,” Stephen Lamb added. “That teamwork can be found in the collaboration between our association and our contractors and workers. It can also be found in the rapport between a member contractor, their workers and their client. We all have to look out for each other in life.”

(This article was supplied by the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago.)